The state of Ohio also reported flu-like illnesses were approximately 10.76% of outpatient visits, up by 52.84% from the previous week. Last week saw 391 flu-associated hospitalizations throughout the state, which was a decrease of 9.9%.
Colon said they typically do not see a peak like the current number of hospitalizations happening until six to eight weeks later in the season.
“This is a very alarming trend,” Colon said. What’s happening in Ohio and across the U.S. is also mirroring what happened in the southern hemisphere, which had a more difficult flu season than previous years.
“Clark County continues to be above the five-year average of influenza-associated hospitalizations,” said Nate Smith of the Clark County Combined Health District. Smith said the age of those who are getting hospitalized is also shifting to older individuals who are over the age of 50. At the beginning of the flu season, Smith said they were seeing more children under the age of 14 becoming hospitalized with the flu.
Health officials say it is not too late to get the flu shot this year as it continues to be the best way to protect against severe flu illness.
“The best thing to do is to get a flu shot, which is going to greatly reduce the possibility of severe illness or hospitalization should an individual contract flu,” Smith said. “Other layered measures of prevention include diligent handwashing, wearing a facial covering if you’re going to be indoors in close proximity of others, and staying home if you are sick or showing any symptoms of flu.”
Jordan Luttrell-Freeman, senior epidemiologist at Butler County General Health District, said the number of cases in his county is unprecedented for this time of year. For the years 2012-2019, Butler County had an average influenza hospitalization rate of 2.12 hospitalizations per 100,000 individuals for November of those years. For the past month this year, Butler County has had an influenza hospitalization rate of 102 per 100,000 individuals.
“We’re seeing 50 times the number of hospitalizations we usually get this time of year,” Luttrell-Freeman said. Since individual cases of the flu are not reportable or tracked unless they are connected to a hospitalization, the increase in hospitalizations could also be linked to weakened immunity and more individuals being susceptible to the flu.
The Warren County Health District also said it is seeing a higher than normal rate of hospitalizations due to the flu for this time of the year.
“An annual flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the seasonal flu and lessen the chance that you will transmit it to others,” said Allison Combs, public information officer for the Warren County Health District.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends individuals six months of age and older receive the seasonal flu vaccine. Influenza viruses change over time, and each year the vaccine is modified to include the viruses that are most likely to circulate during the flu season, Combs said.
The flu shot this season is also a good match for the flu that is currently in circulation, Luttrell-Freeman said. With a high transmission of the virus spreading, there is more evolutionary pressure for the flu to evolve and different strains to spread later on.
“The time to get the shot is now while the shot is still good match,” Luttrell-Freeman said.
Individuals can also wear a face mask for extra protection.
“The same protection from masks is going to work for flu,” Colon said. He said there has been a light flu season the last two years due to the widespread use of face masks.
Heading into the holiday season, health officials are also recommending individuals to stay home when sick, including avoid hosting or attending holiday parties if they are symptomatic.
“It’s especially important to remember as we come into the holiday season to monitor your individual symptoms,” Suffoletto said.
To find a flu vaccine near you, visit www.vaccines.gov/find-vaccines/.
Individuals can take these additional steps to protect their health:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Fever should be gone without the need to use a fever-reducing medicine.